A letter from Tomasz Piec, vice president of Synthos Group, the general sponsor of the 3rd Circular Change Conference

We are delighted to be the sponsor of the 3rd Circular Conference. 

As an upstream producer, Synthos has already come a long way in contributing to the circular economy. But we are an ambitious and innovative part of the European plastics industry, and we want to make an ever-larger contribution. We understand the issues our society is faced with and we acknowledge that there are concerns about the use of plastic. We take those concerns seriously and believe that innovation will help us to perform better. 

We are fully committed to the goal of creating the circular economy, to reduce the dependence on fossil feedstock and to avoid leakage of plastics into the environment – and in particular into our oceans and other water sources. The products manufactured with our materials contribute much to resource efficiency during their use. After that, they are fully recyclable. 

EPS is easily recognisable, also for consumers, and therefore simple to separate for recycling. This includes EPS packaging. It is important to remember that it takes much more resources to create the content that the packaging protects than the packaging itself. This includes food that we should not let go to waste. But EPS packaging is used in even much more critical and high-value applications for example in transporting vital organs, medicines, heavy or fragile and expensive items such as electronic equipment, wines, chemicals. However, public perception and discussions of plastic are too often looking at packaging alone, ignoring other important uses.

Affordable EPS insulation products are used to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. A staggering 97% of European building stock is not currently energy efficient and buildings are responsible for over a third of the EU’s CO2 emissions. This represents unconscionable waste, real suffering for those in energy poverty and a significant barrier to meeting the emission-reduction 

targets in the Paris climate change Agreement. Synthos has made the recycling of the EPS insulation products sustainable by substituting a substance of concern, HBCD.

Furthermore, Synthos has been supporting the PolyStyreneLoop project. It represents the best available waste treatment technique to make the high quality recycling of EPS technically, economically and environmentally sustainable. With PolyStyreneLoop, we will take care of legacy materials that were put on the market long before Synthos entered it, and making them circular.  This is important given the growing volumes of polystyrene foam waste in the coming decades, including EPS. In the German building sector alone, this applies to waste that is forecast to rise from 36 kt in 2015 to 100 kt in 2050 – per year. 

The EPS industry is very proud of its PolyStyreneLoop project as an example of what industry can voluntarily contribute to make the circular economy a reality.

We accept our responsibilities as a producer. But we believe that consumers must also be supported in adopting responsible behaviour and avoiding littering. Well-organised separate plastic waste collection and handling is essential for creating the circular economy.

Synthos is a member of a broad coalition of companies along the circular value chain, representing EPS converters, suppliers, recyclers and machinery companies. We are working together in the European Association for the Manufacturers of Expanded Polystyrene – EUMEPS. Together with our partners in this and other organisations, we have stepped up our efforts in order to constructively engage in the important policy debate how to transition to the circular economy. 

In its Plastics Strategy, the European Commission has called upon stakeholders to make pledges to ensure that by 2025, 10 million t of recycled plastics find their way into new products. In particular for Synthos as an upstream manufacturer, making a credible pledge that we know we can implement requires cooperation along the supply chain across Europe. It is a challenge to do this in the relatively short time from the when the Commission announced the pledging exercise in mid-January until the deadline end of June. Nonetheless, we have the ambition to meet this challenge. 

When speaking at the a stakeholder conference on ‘Reinventing Plastics’ in September last year, EU Commissioner Timmermans said about sustainable development that it poses technological challenges, but not problems – because technology is developing rapidly.

Going forward, we are open to continue contributing actively to the dialogue about how to realise the circular economy in the most efficiently manner. This will require a sober look at the realities faced by manufacturers and users of PS – and the actual implications of any alternatives. Where better understanding is needed, further analysis must be based on reliable evidence and sound methodology.

Let me close with a plea to all those of you who are involved in policy-making: what we need now is a balanced governance framework that provides the right incentives for solutions in the marketplace. This supporting regulatory framework must be based on an analysis of the full life cycle of alternatives.  At the end of the day, the market has to and will deliver the new plastics economy. We are confident that our resource-efficient and fully recyclable products will continue to have a place in that market.

I wish all the participants of the Conference fruitful an creative discussion. 

Tomasz Piec

CCO of Synthos Group